War on Three Fronts

There has been this notion floating about for as long as I can remember that life is hard and doesn’t really make sense until you let Jesus into your life. Once you do that, everything will start to change. You will discover that “God has a wonderful plan for your life” and He wants to bless you beyond your wildest dreams. This was the message that came across (at least for me) in that movie Facing the Giants. The movie tells the story of a high school football coach who has been in a long slump and hears he is going to get fired. He responds by dedicating himself and his team to God and challenges them live and play by God’s rules. Together they “face their giants” of fear and failure with faith in God and go on to win the championship despite all the odds.

A lot of people really love that movie. Not me. I don’t think life or faith is like that—never losing a game again if you just live for God as best you can. Being a Christian, letting God into your life, will not make your problems go away. In fact, they will almost certainly get worse!

What? How can you say that? Don’t you believe that God wants the best for you? Don’t you believe that God wants to bless you?

Of course I do! I don’t know how people make it through the day without Jesus. But the Christian life is not so simply described in the Bible as being peace and joy. It is just as often described as being a war. It is not either or, but both and.

Because of Christ, we have peace with God. Because of Christ, we know we win in the end. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, ESV).

It is the peace we have with God that allows us to go through the storms of life with peace, joy, and hope. But this peace is not the promise of the absence of trouble while we are on this side of eternity. That is never promised. In fact the opposite is, Jesus said in John 16:33 (NIV) I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Trouble comes on three fronts:

Inside. This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:18-23,

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

Outside. We are going to be persecuted, challenged, hurt, betrayed, and attacked by others. Do I need to provide biblical proof texts for this? Is this not seen in the life of every major person in Scripture from one end to the other? Paul says 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 (NIV),

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Are we to believe that his experience was unique? No! It is not an exception but the rule. We may not face the same things he did, but we experience opposition, headaches and heartaches from people outside and (tragically) from inside the church.

Satan. Here is often where we spend the least time watching, and is often where we are assailed the most. True, Satan is defeated. True, he will not be able to undo the victory that we have in Christ—not in the least. But he is still said to be an enemy. He is not to be underestimated. To forget about him is a huge mistake.

Satan is not all knowing, all powerful, or all present. He is a created being and does not have those divine characteristics. But he is powerful, smart, cunning, and bold. Heck, he was bold enough to directly confront Christ (Matthew 4:1-11), why would he be afraid to confront you! There is a reason Paul was always wary of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11) and warns us to be the same (Ephesians 6:11). There is a reason Peter warns us to be aware of him who is still on the prowl looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Paul goes so far as to say in Ephesians 6:12-17(NIV),

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

You don’t need armor if you are not at war. You do not need shields if there is nothing being fired at you. You don’t need a sword unless you need to be on the offensive against an enemy.

These three enemies, my old sinful nature, the world, and the devil, I have been learning, are often in concert. I am not a “the devil made me do it” kind of guy. But I have been learning that he and his minions are not far off or indifferent to what is going on in my life and (more accurately) in the life of the church. He is still trying to win, to do all he can to undo what happened at the cross.

I still have a lot I want to get to, but I think this is enough for today. In my next post I will share some of the things I have been learning lately in applying this.

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